Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Europe's Rapid Reaction Force

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Europe's Rapid Reaction Force

Article excerpt

Stephen Hoadley reviews recent efforts to create a European defence force.

The impulse to create a European defence force arose from conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans and the trans-Caucasus in the 1990s. The European Union proved unable to organise itself to participate militarily in those conflicts. Admittedly, significant military tasks were accomplished by European states unilaterally or under UN Security Council, NATO, or Western European Union (WEU) auspices. But the European Union as an institution appeared paralysed.

The Kosovo crisis hard on the heels of the Bosnia-Herzegovina crisis galvanised the European Union's leaders. The bombing campaign against Serbia demonstrated the overwhelming superiority of US military assets, and the glaring deficiencies of the European states' defence establishments. In the Kosovo campaign it was estimated that the United States provided 90 per cent of the C3I resources, 80 per cent of the aircraft and precision-guided weapons, and the bulk of the other ammunition. Thirty-three of the 35 satellites operating over the Balkans were American.(1) Broadly speaking, the European Union governments in aggregate spent two-thirds of what the United States spent on defence but, it was said, got only 10 per cent of the military effectiveness.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) had been evolving since the Treaty of European Union was signed in 1992 at Maastricht.(2) The CFSP manifested itself in useful diplomatic and economic initiatives in the 1990s, but the military component lagged. Britain's longstanding orientation under Tory governments to a bilateral `special relationship' with the United States, and Britain's staunch support of NATO, retarded European Union consensus on defence policy.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his new Cabinet challenged Britain's aloof posture towards Europe.(3) Against the resistance of Euro-sceptics in his New Labour Party, not to mention those in the Tory opposition, in 1998 Blair decided to back European defence-strengthening efforts.

In October 1998 at an informal meeting of the European Council at Portschach, Austria, Blair criticised the European Union's response to the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo atrocities as marked by `weakness and confusion'. He urged his counterparts to consider building up flexible and deployable armed forces and setting up an effective decision-making structure to direct their use.

Blair's initiatives continued when he met French President Jacques Chirac at St Malo in December 1998. The two leaders issued a `Joint Declaration on European Defence'. This proved to be a turning point in European defence co-operation.(4)

Germany, in a policy paper issued in February 1999, was next to come on board. Already comfortable with mini-lateral defence arrangements such as the Franco-German Brigade and the Eurocorps, and believing that the European Union would need greater strength to match its growing size, Germany supported amalgamation of European defence assets into a new, more effective structure.

Comfortable forum

However, this entailed dismantling the Western European Union. This alliance, based on the Brussels Pact of 1947, pre-dated NATO and had served European interests well. The smaller European states found the WEU a comfortable forum for airing their views. They were reluctant to see it disappear into a new European Union defence structure, which the larger states would inevitably dominate. France, too, had used the WEU as a vehicle for its leadership and a counterbalance to NATO, regarded as too dominated by the United States and Britain. Despite the St Malo Declaration, Paris was understandably ambivalent about abandoning the WEU.

Other issues that exercised European leaders were how much national military authority to delegate to Europe-wide institutions, how the burdens of European armaments and logistics co-operation might be shared, how the European Union's defence arm might interact with NATO, whether the United States and Russia might be hostile, and how non-EU states such as Turkey might participate. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.